I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder and CEO of EarnUp. Matthew enjoys making beautiful things that work. His speciality is designing products that make complex financial decisions incredibly easy to understand. The son of a minister and a teacher, he left from college with $20,000+ in student loans and has a longtime passion for helping underserved communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
In my late 20s I started to become aware of the daunting injustice and inequality of our economic system. I first really experienced this with my parents, who were struggling to manage massive amounts of debt heading into retirement. I also saw this in friends and in myself. I remembered acutely my own fear and confusion with my student loans. I got angry at a system that causes so many to suffer.
These feelings spurred me to take a deeper look into these problems. And I quickly found that there was something very wrong with the consumer loan industry. My experiences and those of my parents showed clearly that the process of managing loan payments was broken. Loan statements are confusing, the customer service is miserable, and loans are constantly transferred to new servicing companies. It is a challenge just to make sure you get your minimum payments in and virtually impossible to get ahead. As I read more about the industry, it was clear that minority and low-income communities were particularly hurt by this.
In 2014 my business partner, Nadim Homsany, and I joined forces to found EarnUp. He and his family had similar financial challenges to my own. What we’ve built is a financial technology platform that is focused on helping the consumer first. It works to help people intelligently automate all their loan payments and simplify their financial lives. Our commitment is to help all people take control of their financial lives and ultimately get out of debt.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve received press and recognition as being an openly gay fintech founder and creating a LGBT-friendly startup. But I definitely have moments I question if being queer limits my ability to be successful as a founder. Do I act “too gay” to raise money from “tech bro” VCs? Will speaking publicly about being gay make some conservative financial institutions avoid partnering with EarnUp? I don’t have answers to these questions. What I do know is that I wasted 10 years of my life trying to be someone else. I also know that if I focus too long on any of my potential limitations I am guaranteed to fail. I am who I am. I try to live honestly and authentically, as best I can.
As founders we have to be scrappy. We have to focus on taking every piece of who we are and leverage it to make our dream into a reality. So if I am queer, then how can I make this into an advantage in a highly competitive market? I can leverage the LGBT community to help me find investors — as we did successfully through our relationship with StartOut. I can speak publicly about being queer and the importance of diversity to EarnUp in order to attract and close diverse world-class talent. I can pursue financial institutions that are excited to partner with EarnUp because of our diversity, not in spite of it.
What do you think makes your company stand out during these disruptive times? Can you share a story?
EarnUp is a major force in the FinTech industry, being selected as a Forbes FinTech 50 Winner as well as a winner of the JP Morgan Chase CFSI Finlab Competition. They are national partners with many leading financial institutions including Freddie Mac, Acumen, and GreenPath Financial.
EarnUp’s technology platform helps people efficiently budget their earnings to make their loan payments on time and ultimately get out of debt faster. Consumer debt in the U.S is at a record high with roughly 200 million Americans burdened with debt from student loans, mortgages, credit cards and more. With more than 60 percent of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, low-income citizens struggle to pay off debt given the complexity of the existing loan payment system.Since its launch in 2015, EarnUp has helped Americans manage over $1 billion in consumer loans.
The EarnUp platform solves this issue by consolidating a person’s loans in one place and making their payments for them in a manner that reduces outstanding debt at the fastest rate possible. The technology also aligns each person’s loan payments with his or her income schedule, eliminating the significant stress of budgeting limited resources, and puts a few dollars aside for future payments whenever the person can afford it.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Focus on diversity and building a great organization. Diversity is important in all industries and fintech is no exception. Most fintech companies are lead by, funded by and targeted at wealthy urban demographics. All of these are mostly white statistically. This unfortunately creates a massive problem when these groups are creating products that are supposed to cater to the core American consumer who is living paycheck to paycheck. Americans are suffering under the weight of over $12 trillion in debt — with much of the burden disproportionately hurting lower income and minority communities the most. So it is critical that fintech groups approach these problems from that lense, which is done best by incorporating a diverse set of experiences and ideals.
In fintech, we are creating the products that will change the world. We believe that there is a need for diversity at all levels of your organization to meet the diverse financial challenges of US consumers. This is important to EarnUp and plays a role when building our team.It is the best way to ensure that we stay focused on our mission of helping everyone, particularly the low to middle income communities successfully get out of debt.
Can you share what you believe will be the “Top 5 Fintech and Banking Trends Over The Next 3 Years”
New banks and bank products– EarnUp will continue to develop partnerships with major nonprofit and for-profit companies and organizations to create win-win partnerships.
Automation of debt and debt payments– EarnUp automates a consumers payments so that they can get out of debt faster and easier.
AI: advancing artificial intelligence to help consumers -EarnUp usesAI to help find the best payment schedules.
Removing obstacles to financial betterment — We are making the customer journey easier to further education and opportunities for personal financial growth.
Helping those in poverty EarnUp is advancing financial inclusion to help low-income Americans manage their debt
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There are over 200 million Americans with debt. A typical American household may have income and expenses hitting their bank accounts over 20 times a month. This financial chaos causes incredible stress for them — they might even struggle to come up with the minimum loan payments on time. We want to help people get out of debt and do it faster. That’s why we do what we do.
Originally published at medium.com